Is burlesque really just about glittery tits and sex? "Burlesque is interesting cause it makes it 'ok' for women to undress and people to watch under some 'artistic' guise... but basically it's posh stripping"

Earlier this week, I found myself in the center of some discussions on Twitter regarding what people think of burlesque. Until this point, I'd not actually asked anyone who wasn't my friend or already a fan of that particular form of cabaret, so the responses were almost always exactly the sort of thing I expected.

I thought burlesque was about music, dance, tease and, ideally, a spot of either comedy or glamour. I'd seen some acts that were pure Vegas showgirl - all Swarovski crystals and huge ostrich feather fans - and others that mocked modern society's idea of what is considered beautiful in a woman by having the performer dance sexily while dressed like an octogenarian.

While the kid in me is transfixed by stars like Dita von Teese and Immodesty Blaize with their impossible levels of glamour, stunning costumes and impeccable choreography, the grown-up in me wants subversion and satire. However, a good burlesque show can in fact provide both. I love watching burlesque and, more recently, I've been enjoying trying my hand as a performer too.

My problem is that, although I want to be the wonderfully clever and humorous performer that Feminist-Me admires, right now I'm still the twelve-year-old watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and cooing at all the sparkly glamour.

I started off thinking that taking burlesque classes was empowering because I'm now not afraid to get up on stage and shimmy my scantily-clad wobbly bits in front of a room full of people and, as a short girl with a passion for cake, this is no mean feat.

Then a well-meant comment from an online acquaintance stopped me in my tracks. After complimenting me on my ass-shaking abilities, he went on to say that:

"Burlesque is interesting cause it makes it 'ok' for women to undress and people to watch under some 'artistic' guise... but basically it's posh stripping that draws the line before 'non posh' stripping does."

Posh stripping? Perhaps I needed to rethink that basic question that has been bugging me since I started all this: is it possible to be a feminist burlesque performer?

It certainly used to be, but perhaps burlesque has lost its way in recent years. Most of the acts in most of the shows I have seen appear to mainly be about stripping now so, is it really all about sex? Basic burlesque classes certainly focus on taking things off more than character and story, and it very much depends on the teacher you get as to how an intermediate level class will progress.

I was lucky enough to have a performer with a theatre and dance background showing me the ropes, however, much as I wanted to believe that what I was doing was different to gyrating in a 'gentlemen's club', perhaps the audience didn't always think so. That's certainly the impression that Guardian contributor Laurie Penny got when performing with a troupe. Thinking that I was a part of this seediness was quite shocking, in a way. I didn't get into burlesque to arouse - I did it to have fun.

After blogging and tweeting about burlesque versus feminism to get some more opinions on the subject, I got some fascinating responses. One guy pondered the idea that some people might see burlesque as stripping for men who don't like to admit going to strip clubs, but then added that, "stripping, to me, has connotations of women sitting with you for price of drinks and private dances, but burlesque doesn't".

Others asked me if I was questioning burlesque due to worries over whether audiences come to see my body, or how I see myself when dancing, asking the extremely thought-provoking question: "What kind of freedom would you have / respect would you command if you shunned burlesque because of someone else's perception?" Another comment was regarding promoters perhaps being part of the problem as, when they book acts, "they don't tend to pick challenging burlesque, just glittertits".

By choosing the music, creating our costumes, choreographing routines, building our own shows and booking the venues, my friends and I have the ability to retain full control and do everything just the way we want.

Therefore, if I decided I want to be glittertits for the evening, surely I have no one to blame but myself if someone thinks burlesque is about sex? They've just misunderstood the show, that's all. If I want to progress to performances that are challenging for an audience, I need to get used to people missing the point. One fantastic tweet from @ivovic helped me come to that conclusion: "I wonder... would there be any point in pursuing either burlesque or feminism if everyone got it?"

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2 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Is burlesque really just about glittery tits and sex?</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">"Burlesque is interesting cause it makes it 'ok' for women to undress and people to watch under some 'artistic' guise... but basically it's posh stripping"</span>”

  1. Why does there have to be a conflict between sex and feminism? In my mind, feminism has always represented the ideal of women being able to do what makes them happy. Burlesque makes you happy, so why should that have any effect on your feminism? Because it shows you being sexy? I think women have full rights to be sexy and should embrace it - and feminism shouldn't be there, staring them down and discouraging them.

    I encourage you to do burlesque and add undertones to it - it's about the fun and not the stripping, as much. But don't make that in conflict with your feminist beliefs.

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  2. The creation of anything can lead to conflict between the creator and its audience, especially towards any meaning or purpose.

    But ultimately, as long as both parties are happy with what they get out of it, then keep going!

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